Sunday, November 30, 2008

Entirely Up To You Darling

Prompted by his adventures in the movie business this is the long-awaited autobiography by Sir Richard Attenborough, one of the world's best-loved actors and directors. Written together with his long-time friend, colleague and business partner, it covers the extraordinary breadth of his life and experiences as well as the film business. Attenborough also movingly reflects on the other passions and relationships in his life, football, politics, his avuncular friendship with Princess Diana, and finally the tragedy of the tsunami which robbed him of his daughter and granddaughter.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Reviewed by Dr. Janice Russell

This book is a magnificent read, in every way, and it’s easy to see why Rose Tremain is described as gifted – she is able to paint a picture with depth, sensitivity and brutal honesty, entrancing her reader from the outset. She also does her homework, researching her subject matter extremely well, resulting in a credible, moving and gripping work.

The Road Home is the odyssey of Lev, an ‘ordinary’ man, who moves to England from Eastern Europe in order to find work and fund the future of his family. Lev finds an England that he didn’t quite expect. Tremain’s writing of this England brilliantly interweaves details and commentary on some of the less prestigious aspects of English culture – celebrities as the new aristocracy, the elderly abandoned into care homes –with a series of rich and vivid characters who embody more attractive values.

The characters throughout the book are boldly drawn. Most courageous is Lev himself – a man with much to carry in his heart and on his shoulders, we feel for him, his plight, and his sense of family duty. We also see his weaknesses: an inward struggle with his own violence, and his mixed ‘whore and virgin’ attitude to and treatment of women. His friend Christy, an Irish immigrant, is drawn with similar complexity, Rudi, the friend left at home, Sophie, the English woman with whom he has an affair, and Lydia, the woman on the bus with whom he travelled from hi s home town, add dimension and interest. They all work well, and provide vehicles for different aspects of Lev’s character to be drawn. These characters also provide the opportunity for humour, which is never far away in a well crafted sense, through use of language, through being media for Lev to remember stories and anecdotes which make us smile frequently throughout. This lightness of touch makes the book extremely easy to read, most engaging.

The plot and pace move along, and while there is a certain predictability, for example in what kind of work Lev does, there are surprises throughout in the form of ‘bit parts’. Tremain’s depth of writing earns her the right to a certain inevitability in the ending, which is foreseeable though far from pure ‘happy’. She has been likened to Steinbeck in her treatment o f the subject matter, evoking the senses of both determination and alienation common to the immigrant, and yet which are more common to many people than is ever truly acknowledged, even when on home turf . Maybe this is why Tremain works so well – not only does she write a good story, but we can identify with the emotions of her characters, whether or not we’ve ever been in their situation. She writes lyrically yet honestly , and her work is moving without being sentimental. This book is an experience: I recommend it highly.

Janice Russ
ell is a life and business coach, and a writer and tutor. She has written Keeping Abreast, a factional, entertaining and provocative story of surviving breast cancer, currently being reprinted. Her latest novel, Rough Diamonds, is being publi shed by Legend Press, and both will be ready to order by Christmas, Janice teaches creative writing online, and offers workshops and critiques in the Algarve.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Books For Christmas

Lots and lots of books to choose from for all your family and friends. The catalogue is now available. Request yours from

"Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal." Lenore Hershey

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Elise Designs - Personalised Handcrafted Christmas Cards

Click on photo to enlarge

This Christmas, just like last year, we have a wide range of Christmas cards. But we'd like to remind you that if you wish to send something unique to the special people in your life, why not order a personalised card from the Elise Designs range? For 4,25€ choose a design and have the name of who you're sending the card to, printed on the front of the card.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller

Reviewed by Dr. Janice Russell

This is a book of three parts.

Pippa Lee, middle class sophisticate wife, has moved into a retirement village with her 80 year old husband, Herb, a successful American publishing executive. As the youngest person there, Pippa inevitably begins to question whether retirement world is where she wants to be, and begins to find herself experiencing strange sense of disquiets and disturbing symptoms of unrest, such as sleepwalking. Not in a usual sense, but in an extreme sense. Thus begins a journey which leads the reader through the chronicles of Pippa’s past life, revealing depths and experiences that are not immediately apparent within the character.

The second section of the book makes the reader privy as to why this may be, basically summarising Pippa’s life journey, and is written with sensitivity and depth, traversing worlds of bohemia and excess, exploration of sexualities, and addiction to drugs. Themes of mother daughter relationship and guilt are explored with insight and expertise, and the text is eloquent, the themes compelling.

Part Three of the book integrates past and present with an unsurprising dénouement which embraces the themes you might expect – conflict resolution within the family, repeated patterns within the marriage, and Pippa’s exorcism of her ghosts which enable her to move forwards a free woman. In a sense, this is an odyssey, the chronicle of challenges and triumphs

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would from the first chapter, and in a way, this is symptomatic of the structure. Three distinct parts, all written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, trying to take us inside the heads of Pippa, her mother, her daughter, and Chris, the somewhat erratic son of Pippa’s neighbour up the road. If anything, this structure slightly distracts from what is otherwise a very convincing read – it is compartmentalised rather than threaded, a structure I would have preferred. While we are privy to Pippa’s past life in the second part of the book,, there is no indication that she is remembering the same things, discovering the same insights. Maybe this is deliberate, and just indicates that these evets are conspiring on an unconscious level.

That said, this book is intelligent and bold, courageous enough to suggest the darker aspects of parent child relationships, the complexities of responsibility, the shadow side of the protagonist. It is also frank in its observations of the ageing process, which is a refreshing change from the line that seventy is the new forty, and other such clichés, which, while empowering, can fail to look honestly at the effects of time on our bodies and minds and the real impact that this has for relationships. It is also far from the usual depiction of the all American family, for which I am grateful. Overall, an excellent read and I would recommend persevering beyond the first chapter into the body of the book.

Janice Russell

Janice Russell is a life and business coach, and a writer and tutor. She has written Keeping Abreast, a factional, entertaining and provocative story of surviving breast cancer, currently being reprinted. Her latest novel, Rough Diamonds, is being published by Legend Press, and both will be ready to order by Christmas, Janice teaches creative writing online, and offers workshops and critiques in the Algarve.